2016 Public Policy Agenda for Georgia Pharmacists

JULY 19, 2016

There are three public policy goals the Georgia Pharmacy Association has identified for 2016, based on responses to a questionnaire given by member pharmacists. Those three areas include (1) changes to Georgia's prescription drug monitoring program, (2) clarifying the role of the pharmacist to patients taking legal cannabis oil in Georgia, and (3) defining the term "direct supervision" in reference to pharmacy technicians.

1. Georgia's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

In 2011, Georgia became one of the last states in the nation to implement a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) as part of the Patient Safety Act. While the program has already helped tremendously in several areas, and addiction rates to lortab, oxycodone, and hydrocodone have dramatically decreased over the past five years, there are other areas in which the PDMP requires critical overhaul. It is particularly addled by funding concerns, limitations on access, and open communications.

a. Funding Issues

The PDMP was initially funded in 2013 through a $400,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, so there was no cost to the state of Georgia. Through lean budgeting and a small staff, that money was made to last through September of 2015. The Georgia legislature did approve an additional $250,000 in funding in March of 2015 to keep the PDMP operational, but what happens when that funding runs out? The Georgia Pharmacy Association favors a permanent solution of state funding of $200,000 to $250,000 annually, rather than federal funding through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which comes with federal reporting requirements.

b. Access Limitations

Currently, only pharmacists are required to enter Schedule II prescriptions into PDMP; accessing the system is voluntary for physicians. This means that patients are still falling through the cracks. The Georgia Pharmacy Association advocates allowing both doctors and pharmacists to delegate responsibility for entering prescriptions into the PDMP, not allowed under the current version of the law.

c. Communication Problems

Georgia law prevents pharmacists and doctors from communicating without court order; this works as a detriment to the goal of identifying those with drug seeking behavior. At the time the law was passed, lawmakers were very concerned with patient privacy issues. Neighboring states allow doctors and pharmacists to see patient records across state lines; the Georgia Pharmacy Association will urge Georgia to do the same by building interoperability into the PDMP.

2. The Role of Georgia Pharmacists with Cannabis Oil

While still illegal under federal law, it is now legal for some Georgia residents to possess cannabis oil. However, there is not currently any role for the pharmacist regarding patients taking cannabis oil. The Georgia Pharmacy Association advocates pharmacist involvement, not pharmacy employment. This means that instead of suggesting cannabis oil be sold through existing pharmacies, will advocate a position that all those who sell cannabis oil in Georgia must employ a pharmacist, to review the use of cannabis oil after reviewing the patient's medication profile, advising on side effects and contraindications, and ongoing monitoring for effectiveness.

3. Supervision of Pharmacy Technicians

The final area of legislative focus for the Georgia Pharmacy Association relates to the supervision of pharmacy technicians. Georgia law requires that pharmacists be present and personally supervise the activities of technicians at all times. A strict interpretation of these laws really makes the supervision laws impossible to comply with, so the Association will be looking to revise the language of the existing laws to allow pharmacists to perform the core functions of their jobs without breaking the law.

CONCLUSION

While those are the three legislative priorities outlined this year by the Georgia Pharmacy Association, they are also continuing to work towards longer term goals, the most important being the continued pursuit of full health care provider status for Georgia pharmacists; with a focus on medically underserved communities. Another long-term focus of the Association is the prior authorization requirements of some insurance companies before a new prescription can be filled; particularly with Medicaid patients. The Association will pursue the implementation of real-time prior authorization systems, so there are no lapses in patient medication. The Georgia Pharmacy Association identifies collaborative practice agreements as a third long term goal, and particularly some clarifications in the language of the rules related to immunization expansion.

With those short term and long term goals identified for 2016, it looks to be one with many positive changes for pharmacists on the horizon. If you are a licensed pharmacist in Georgia and would like more information on Georgia law governing pharmacists, call or email the experienced healthcare attorney Frances Cullen P.C. today.